It's 10 p.m. Twenty-five-year-old "Raquelle Diva" walks into an empty room at Studio 20 in Bucharest, Romania, her plastic heels clicking against the linoleum as she powers the computer screen.
She wears a backless red dress and scrunches her hair, hustling from corner to corner. Flipping on the fluorescent lights and grabbing balloons — props for her one-woman digital peep show — she eases into the faux pillowtop armchair to face the webcam. Her clients are waiting.
As technology becomes better and cheaper and as free sexual content explodes online, live sex shows have replaced the dying pornography business. The adult webcam industry currently tops $1 billion in revenue a year and collectively, cam sites are visited by an estimated 5% of global web users daily — with top sites hosting 30 million visitors a month. At any given time, hundreds of models are performing sex shows online in specialized studios for clients across the world in real time.
Photographer Lorenzo Maccotta stands behind the camera after Raquelle Diva's final session of the night. She is one of more than 14 models Maccotta has shot — all in an attempt to understand how technology interacts with and modifies human beings.
Raquelle Diva, who earned $48,000 in three months last year, is the most successful cam model at Studio 20. Once logged into a private chat room, her clients pay for continued connection. She receives a wide range of requests, from those who just want to talk or have a dinner or sleep with someone in real time, to those who ask her to pop up balloons or threat them like a child. She uses a dildo-like device that vibrates every time a member pays a tip.
Each staged room has a cushioned lounge chair, couch or bed facing a computer screen and camera. Three of the walls — save the bare walls the camera will never see — are covered with some hyperbolic statement wallpaper or cheap silk curtains. The rooms vary, from a stiff corporate luxury suite to something from a low-end strip club.
Studios are open 24/7, offering eight-hour shifts day and night. Some are equipped with a massage room, English teaching classes and consultants that provide advice remotely to the models when in trouble during a session. All promise the same gratification: easy money for an easy job.
While working behind the screen can have its advantages — a cam model no longer needs a pimp or protector, and real-time videos are not as easily distributed online for free — some models can still be enslaved by these virtual platforms. Some can be blackmailed, threatened to lose anonymity, and pushed into doing things they aren't comfortable with. More commonly, models feel alienated after spending eight hours in a room.
"From a psychological point of view, the job is invasive," Alex, a taxi driver whose wife works at a studio in Bucharest, tells Maccotta. "As a consequence of a daily duty based on pleasuring someone through a screen, you can easily identify yourself with the image you sell and get lost."
Lorenzo Maccotta is a photojournalist based in Rome.